Witnessing Pain

A few weeks ago I wrote to you about the danger of disconnecting. In it, I guided you to look at how disconnecting from our own emotional world can bring harm to ourselves and our world. Over the last several weeks, I’ve been walking through a challenging situation where disconnection was bringing true harm to the people that I love. And, Ok, me. I can’t tell you who or what the situation is to protect the safety of those involved. I can tell you that while this past month has brought incredible pain, it has also allowed me to witness love in its highest form. As I witnessed the pain, my own and others, I felt as though my previous blog barely scratched the surface of the danger I alluded to. I’d like to say more in an effort to walk each other home to peace.

Disconnection, An Existential Threat

I don’t know if I wrote this clearly enough last time, but I truly believe that disconnection is the number one threat to humanity and our planet today. I also believe that connection offers healing that can serve as the solution to this threat. To me, very simply disconnection is the act of removing yourself from the pain that you cause or experience. I believe that this form of disconnection begins subconsciously and builds throughout our lifetime for the purpose of survival. As we age and bury this disconnection shame is birthed and we begin to split from ourselves and our world.

Have you ever felt that there is something just, “not right,” with you? Battled or spoke to yourself in ways that you would never speak to a friend? I have. It’s always shame. Under that shame is a need not met because I have disconnected myself from the time the root shame, and problem, presented itself. I became distant from myself and in this distance, I could not offer myself compassion or provide accountability where accountability was needed. I believe that we all do this.

Let me give an example to see if I can help you see what I see. Let’s start with childhood, you’re a little girl and desperately want a toy your sister is playing with. In reaction to this, you scream at her, hit her, and inevitably get pulled aside for a time out (or spanking, that shouldn’t happen in my opinion). Following this event, you are in pain, both at your bottom and emotionally. To repair this you disconnect yourself from how you behaved, place the blame on wanting the toy, and snuggle into the idea that if your sister had let you have a turn none of this would have happened. It’s her fault for not sharing right? That version is certainly easier to digest than, “I hurt my sister’s body and I love her.” You begin to build a narrative that bypasses the harm that you are causing others, and the pain you feel yourself. Make sense?

Burying Pain Has Its Roots In Our Reptilian Brain

We can build this up into a million different scenarios that all have the same plot line. The plot goes like this; you either experience pain from another person or hurt another person (or living creature, or planet) and in response to that pain you bury it and provide yourself a comforting narrative to get through that pain. In this act of burying the pain you caused (or feel), you start a ripple effect in your subconscious of disconnecting from yourself, what is present, and what is real. You tell yourself that what is real is too painful to witness and that escaping that pain is what you need to do to survive. Of course, it is at that moment, you are human, yes? Our instinct for survival dates back thousands of years. When we bury the pain, we are in our reptilian brain, the part of our brain that is in control of our innate and automatic self-preserving behavior patterns, which ensure our survival and that of our species.

The problem here is that we aren’t reptiles, we are emotional beings that need language and action when we experience pain. This part of our brain doesn’t recognize that need, it’s done its job by preserving you. Yet our souls, lives, and earth need that language to process the pain and to prevent new pain from forming as a result of this unhealed wound. Without acknowledging the reality of the pain, we simply cannot repair it, and so it becomes buried. Buried pain disrupts our lives and, when unchecked, creates devastation both to ourselves and the world. We have this tiny mad idea that looking at the pain will make us monsters. That acknowledgment of our wrongdoings will lament the reality that we are in fact a bad person. And if we are a bad person, who hurts ourselves and others, how can we get up the next morning?

Pain Is Not Irreparable, But It Must Be Witnessed

What if I told you that you’re not a bad person, you’re a human being, and all human beings hurt others? That unintentionally (most of the time…) harm is done every single day? And that it isn’t the harm that is causing the real pain, but your failure to repair the harm you caused? Harm happens, it just does. The only way to heal is to witness the harm we are causing ourselves, others, and the world. Without this brave witnessing pain breeds more pain. With this witnessing, we are able to acknowledge how/who we hurt and start anew; including ourselves. We are able to offer apologies, repair our behaviors, and offer compassion to ourselves so that we can heal the wound that caused that pain. In healing the original wound, pain leaves, and peace settles in.

In this repair, it’s important to know that if you hurt another person, forgiveness is theirs to give and not owed to you. Forgiveness can only be offered when the wounded have healed and it is not the responsibility of the wounded to abdicate the person who caused the harm. It is your job to acknowledge the hurt and provide the emotional support your own heart needs in the aftermath of pain.

It is not what you do, who you hurt, or how you fall that matters. What matters is taking accountability for your actions, offering yourself grace, and aligning yourself with the intentional work of “do no harm.” Start today anew, offer yourself the gift of brave witnessing, and help us all as we shift to a more kind and peaceful planet.


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